Reviewing Adventures in Odyssey as an Atheist: Viva la Difference

It’s probably not surprising, given that this is a product of Focus on the Family, that politics and social issues is not one of the topics I think they handled particularly well. I not only have come to disagree on them when it comes to most issues, but disagree in a way that creates an impasse. It’s one thing to disagree with someone, but be willing to be convinced, and have them return the sentiment. It’s another thing to have your core assumptions and values so diametrically opposed that neither of you could persuade the other without also fundamentally rocking your worldview. On most issues, AIO and I disagree in the latter sense, and in this way I think we unfortunately mirror our society as a whole.

Yet, I do like to start my topical sections out on a positive note, and there’s one particular episode that debunks a serious misconception about conservative Christianity. I’m going to temporarily put aside my politically outraged liberal hat, so I can talk about one political lesson that was incredibly positive. I don’t just bring this up because I want cookies for being fair minded, but also because I think that if you’re going to fight a toxic mentality, you need to fully understand it. I think that sometimes we waste our time fighting something that isn’t actually a problem, and that gets in the way of the bigger, more uncomfortable problems.

So without further ado, I would like to introduce you to the Mulligans. Mike and Tracy are the parents, Lisa is their daughter, and they also take care of their cousin Nick. Nick has a good heart, but is so preoccupied with being cool that he usually ends up being the biggest dork around. Lisa is blind, spunky and an ardent animal lover. To her delight, the family lives on a farm where they’ve rehomed various exotic animals from a closed zoo. They took in the animals because they have made an agreement to “always say yes to God.” In other words, when somebody comes to them needing help, they will find a way to do it.

Have I mentioned I really, really like the Mulligans?

On the Mulligan zoo-farm, they all have their own assigned critters. Nick and Lisa have very different techniques for wrangling them, and they are getting on each other’s nerves. For example, as they are unloading some new animals, Lisa’s sweet talk approach with her ostriches gets them into their pen at approximately the rate of sloth. Meanwhile, Nick’s baby elephant, Gus, isn’t eating. Nick’s main ideas have been, A. try to somehow pry Gus’s mouth open and shovel some food in or B. explain to him the error of his ways. These have not been particularly effective. Lisa thinks Gus is probably scared and would cooperate better after some TLC; Nick thinks that if she would stop serenading the birds and just shoo them they might possibly stop being in his way all the time.

Whit comes in the middle of this chaos with a request. There’s a single mother he knows who is going into the hospital for a long stay, and her daughters need a place to stay. Mike and Tracy say they want to pray about it, but it’s pretty clear where this is going. Even they joke about the farm turning into a city.

The next day, Lisa and Nick get into a fight over lunch. She makes a lot of the meals and has gone full blown vegetarian lately. Nick is not adapting well to the rabbit lifestyle. Tracy tries to settle this argument by convincing him to take a turn cooking. At first he insists he’s too macho for that, but she points out that some of the best chefs in the world are men.

For AIO, this is some mind blowing gender subversion.

Anyway, he’s convinced, and while he goes off, Lisa rants about his macho attitude towards everything. Tracy uses diversity in the animal kingdom to talk about how different gender expressions can both be good. Lisa has never had a brother, nor has Nick had a sister. When Nick does things a different way, and Lisa automatically assumes. But when it comes to animals, she doesn’t like one animal more for travelling in herds instead of living solo, or having feathers instead of fur. They’re all different, and she loves them all for what they are. Tracy encourages her to see her own femininity and Nick’s masculinity like fur and feathers; not better or worse, just different.

Once the speech is over, they go to check in on what Nick’s doing for lunch, or as Lisa says, what he’s doing to it. He presents them with, hot dog and sausage sandwiches, sprinkled with bacon, wrapped in bologna, topped with spam. That is mostly a direct quote, but I’ve left out Lisa’s agonized gagging.

I guess lunch meat withdrawal is a thing.

Lisa gets physically sick and Tracy goes to help her out, while Mike does his best to enjoy the… meal?

A bit later, as Nick is taking another shot at feeding Gus, Mike goes in to broach the topic of the girls Whit wanted them to look after. He starts by checking in with how Nick’s adjusting to having a sister. Nick talks about girls being weird, and Mike gives his own talk about how boring the world would be if men and women were exactly alike. He also takes it a little further, bringing up how all the other differences between us can make us  better; how being around people who aren’t exactly like us can enrich us as people, and challenge us to grow in ways that we never would if everybody was exactly the same. It’s a great speech, but unfortunately it’s interrupted by escaping ostriches.

Aaaaah, life on a zoo.

So there’s four ostriches and four people. They figure that if they each take a bird, they can bring them all back before any of the birds get to the highway. Tracy, Mike and Nick all bring their animals in pretty quickly, but Lisa has some trouble with her bird. Her approach, lovey-dovey as always, instead makes the ostrich think, “yeah, I can take this bitch,” and it starts pecking her.

Ostriches can be fucking vicious, and Lisa, being blind, can’t dodge. She quickly becomes utterly panicked. Nick charges in and scares the ostrich back into the herd. Lisa’s shaken, but recovers quickly, and wonders what went wrong. Nick answers that sometimes you just have to cut the sweet talk and show them who’s boss. She admits he has a point, which Nick makes sure to milk for all it’s worth until her gratitude turns into exasperation.

Awww, he’s learning how to be a brother!

So point one to the macho method, but Lisa’s back up for the next round. After she is bandaged up, she finds Nick once against wrestling unsuccessfully with Gus. She starts sweet talking and cuddling the little guy, and suddenly Gus opens his mouth for the bottle. After a little experimentation, they realize that when they lean on his trunk, he feels like his mother is above him and he’s ready to eat. Go team gender diversity!

Just as Nick is talking about them having solved their gender related issues, Whit shows up, bringing Jessica and Janelle, the twin girls. Nick is taken aback, as Mike didn’t actually get to the “fyi, we got more kids coming on board” part of the talk. There was a little crisis with some escaped dinosaurs, remember?

Well, this is inconvenient, as Jessica and Janelle are Black, and at first they worry that he’s reacting to that. Of course it’s just that he’s surprised by new people, plus now he’s outnumbered by girls three to one. These two kids, already stressed by their mother’s health crisis and being taken in by strangers, had to also experience a moment of worry that they were going to be stuck with a massive racist, only to learn that he’s just a slight misogynist. What a hilarious misunderstanding!

So… yeah. That ending was awkward as hell. I’d love to go into a whole rant about the problems with introducing someone’s marginalized identity by having an It’s-Not-Bigotry-It’s-Just-A-Misunderstanding Scene (TM), but I really don’t have space for it, so I’ll just acknowledge that it is a problem, and save the why for another time. While I’m acknowledging issues, there’s some cisheteronormativity in both Tracy and Mike’s speeches; as in “of course Nick acts that way, he’s a guy. We can predict the exact ways you two are different based on your genders.” You have to wonder if they would be as supportive of Nick and Lisa’s different personalities if they were both boys, or both girls.

But as far as the episode goes with the moral, their point is awesome. They do have a firm grasp of the heart of inclusion and diversity; different can be good. Different is what makes life interesting and beautiful, and often our differences enable us to help each other. Our talents and strengths can balance each other out, and the benefits of diversity are well worth the work it can sometimes take to get along. AIO and I actually totally agree on this basic principle.

I know all too many liberals who think conservatives don’t get this principle, but I think many of them do, in an abstract sense. I was pretty deeply entrenched in conservative Christian fundamentalism, and I constantly got the message that differences were gifts from God. It wasn’t about a difference of basic principles, but a list of exceptions to that principle; this one doesn’t count as a good difference, nor does this one, nor that, nor that. In my next reviews, I’ll try to not only show how some identities were marginalized, but also try to explain why this happens, and hopefully explore some ideas on how to better address bigotry in our political culture.

Final Ratings

Best Part: I love so many moments, but the scene where Lisa and Nick finally co-operate to help Gus is so fulfilling and heartwarming. And it has a happy baby elephant! It’s tough to compete with that.

Worst Part: Jessica and Janelle’s awkward introduction.

Morality Rating: This is an important idea, well illustrated by the story. A+

Story Rating: Funny, well paced and brings the main idea up in a way that feels natural. A+

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The Ghost Bride, by Yangsze Choo

The Ghost Bride

  • Genre
    • Horror, Ghost Story, Historical Fiction
  • Plot Summary
    • Li Lan, a beautiful young woman from a family fallen on hard times, is asked if she wants to become a ghost bride; an unusual custom used to placate the restless dead. When she declines, she finds that her undead suitor is persistent, and tied to deeper secrets than she could have imagined. 
  • Characters
    • I really liked Li Lan, as well as the side characters. Their quirks, histories and foibles were well developed. The bad guys had enough tragic pasts and difficult situations to make you feel sorry for them, but were still despicable enough to make you root for their downfall. The good guys had enough flaws to be relatable, but were heroic enough to make you hope for their success. Special shoutout to Amah, who was a delightful mother figure and mentor. 
  • Tone: What’s it Like to Read This Book?
    • Gothic and creepy, with a good bit of fantasy adventure thrown in. I think this would be a good one for anyone who likes scary material, but wants to spend more time excited or in suspense than disturbed and horrified. 
  • Other Shiny Stuff
    • The setting is actually Victorian Malaysia, but focused on the Chinese community within it. The author is Malaysian of Chinese descent, so it’s not some exoticized stereotype, but a breathing world portrayed with the warmth of familiarity. It was a setting that was completely unfamiliar to me, and it was delightful to get to see a bit of it through the eyes of an insider.
    • She adds end notes on the history, culture and folklore that inspired it.  
    • The afterlife and magic system is well developed, unique and fun. It is heavily based on Chinese and Malaysian beliefs and mythology, but there are also elements she invented for herself, and they all blend together beautifully.
    • Lots of great female characters, both heroic and villainous. Bechdel’s Test is easily passed.
  • Content Warnings
    • Possessions and stalking; probably the creepiest thing about Lim Tian Ching, the ghost who haunts Li Lan, is how much of a realistically entitled pervert he is. 
  • Quotes
    • “It seemed to me that in this confluence of cultures we had acquired one another’s superstitions without necessarily any of their comforts.”
    • “I liked the moon, with its soft silver beams. It was at once elusive and filled with trickery, so that lost objects that had rolled into the crevices of a room were rarely found, and books read in its light seemed to contain all sorts of fanciful stories that were never there the next morning.”

The Frangipani Hotel, by Violet Kupersmith

The Frangipani Hotel

  • Genre
    • Horror, Suspense, Ghost Stories
  • Plot Summary
    • A collection of ghost stories and monster tales, centered around the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
  • Character Empathy
    • I loved the variety of the viewpoint characters. Some were cynical and detached, some curious and naive, some lonely or depressed, some heartless, some too compassionate for their own good. Depending on whose eyes you are looking for, you might more or less insight into the other characters. However, even with the most jaded and unobservant characters, the author gives you glimpses of the facets they might be missing, all without violating the point of view. It’s fantastic and brilliant. 
  • Tone: What’s it Like to Read This Book?
    • Creepy, but also oddly charming. I’ve always thought that horror is most effective when paired with something loved or lovable; if you don’t love something, how are you going to get attached, and so why should you be afraid? Here, the love most often comes from the sense of place. You can tell that the author loves Vietnam (her mother was a refugee from the war, and Violet Kupersmith later returned to study there). She draws you into even the dingiest alleys and most polluted landscapes, and makes you long to protect it from the monsters that are about to break out onto it.
    • She’s also an absolute master of suspense. She knows that less is sometimes more, and always keeps you guessing about what she’s going to show you, and what she’ll leave to your imagination.
  • Other Shiny Stuff
    • A creepy water woman who could probably eat Odysseus’ sirens for breakfast.
    • The first story is dialog only. I’m kind of a sucker for stories that take those kinds of gimmicks and make them work naturally. She definitely pulled it off.
    • A cranky old truck driver’s story about the time he transported a shark… and it’s not even the main ghost story, just beautifully weird set dressing.
    • A sweet old man who happens to spend part of his life as a giant snake. That’s shiny to me, because I like both sweet old men and cool snakes.
  • Content Warnings
    • Creepy bodies, monsters, a pinch of body horror… the usual fare for this genre.
    • There is one story, Skin and Bones, that might be triggering for people with eating disorders. Still read the book, just skip that one.
  • Quotes
    • “Con, if you were listening you would have learned almost everything you need to know about your history. The first rule of the country we come from is that it always gives you what you ask for, but never exactly what you want.
    • “Thuy didn’t mind that she and her grandmother couldn’t speak to each other. In fact, she rather liked it, and found that their mutual lack of language skills freed them from the banalities of conversation.”
    • “They had discovered that excitement is really just smog and noise and never seeing the stars, and trash piled up in the streets. They would ride with their heads out the window, their faces softening as the city fell away and the world turned flat and emerald-colored again; they were waiting for the moment when we crossed into their province, when they would smack the dashboard and cry out, “Here! Here!”
    • “Sometimes kids will sit on the lower branches and try to fish, but everyone knows that there’s nothing to catch in Hoan Kiem but empty Coca-Cola cans and used heroin needles. Legend says that centuries ago, a giant turtle lived at the bottom of the lake, and it once gave a magic sword to a general to help him defeat the Chinese invaders. I’m supposed to tell the story to all the tourists who stay at the Frangi.”

Reviewing Adventures in Odyssey as an Atheist: An Act of Nobility

Now, before I get to AIO’s coverage of social and political issues, I’m going into the second meta-moralizing episode. Last time, I talked about how their standard format can lead to some spectacularly bland storytelling, and rather confusing messages, because they are often unwilling to break the mold when the story demands it. This time, I’m going to talk about a dissonance between their confidence and their understanding.

The episode opens with Isaac moping at Whit’s End about surprise homework. Seems that, in history class, his teacher asked if anybody knew what nobility meant, and Isaac said it was kings and dukes and lords and so on. Whit immediately thinks he knows the problem.

“Let me guess. She said there was a lot more to nobility than rank and title.”

No, Whit, it’s a fucking history class, not an ethics or philosophy class. The word may have multiple meanings but in this context she is clearly looking for a description of the feudal system… oh wait. That’s exactly what she said?

Well, that’s a plot twist.

She then made Isaac write a report on the true meaning of nobility, even though he apparently still doesn’t have a clue what she meant. Okay then.

So Whit offers to- No, hang on. I’m still not over this. You mean to tell me that she brought up the topic of nobility, in a history class, told the first kid who answered that he was wrong, and then just moved on? What did she bring nobility up for if it wasn’t going to be integral to the lesson? And what the hell was with the random punishment homework?

Maybe she actually asked the class for a definition of mobility, and when Isaac piped up she thought, “oh, a derailing smartass, I’ll show him,” then continued her lesson on early capitalism and the opportunities brought by re-emergence of the merchant middle class in medieval Europe.

Anyway, Whit offers to tell a story to help Isaac understand the true meaning of nobility. He has one stipulation though; Isaac can’t use the story in his report. You’d think this is because plagiarism is a bad habit to start this young, but you’d only think that because you haven’t heard other AIO episodes. Whit does this all the time. He tells stories to kids who can’t think of ideas for their biography paper or history report, and at the end they’re all, “gee whiz, Mr. Whitaker, what a great story! I’ll sit down and write up those things you said right now!” Apparently teachers in Odyssey accept, “the nice old man from the ice cream shop told me” as a cited reference. Which leaves Whit’s refusal to let Isaac use the story in his paper as mysteerrriiiooouuussss.

Whit’s story centers around an American named James Armer, who is vacationing in the quaint little Slavic nation of Muldavia. He’s out for a walk one day when he sees a plane in trouble. When it crashes in a nearby field, he runs out to help, but a pair of men appear and yell at him to get away. As soon as they set eyes on him, they are stunned, and he barks at them to help the pilot. The three of them get the pilot out and into James’ cabin, and the reason for their reaction becomes plain. James and the pilot look identical; what’s more the pilot is none other than Crown Prince Roderick of Muldavia.

Now’s as good a time as any to reveal that Whit is basically retelling The Prisoner of Zenda.

The two men are General Farnam and Dr. Monroe, two trusted advisers (with weirdly non-Slavic names) to the royal family, and the prince ran off to enjoy a bit of freedom before the coronation. They had been following him on foot because they were concerned… They mention that luckily his plane isn’t very fast, so this was possible, but it still bothered me. I mean, they weren’t just keeping it in sight. They were on it, immediately, the moment it crashed. I did a little research, and the slowest planes are still in the 30-45 mph range. Slower than that and they physically can’t stay airborne. Plus, this one is the private toy of a crown prince. I can buy that with a little country he can’t afford the biggest, fastest one in existence, but he’s got to have one at least a notch above the slowest in the world. Old timey-ness isn’t an excuse either. Even the Wright brother’s second flight went 37 mph, and we got to 100 mph planes within the first decade of manned aircraft… I’m spending way too much time on this. Sorry guys.

So, it turns out the crash was no accident. Dr. Monroe recovers a wine bottle from the wreckage, which he says was drugged. He and General Farnam pour over the label that says Von Warburg sellers, while James, to his credit, freaks out over the fact that this motherfucker was drinking and flying at the same time!

They’re all, “yes, yes, we’re very concerned, he’s so irresponsible, but still. The real issue is that he’s rightful heir to the throne, while Baron Von Warburg is an illegitimate cousin, so that’s where our moral priorities lie.” Furthermore, Prince Roderick refuses to listen to his adviser’s info on how corrupt and evil Von Warburg is. If Roderick doesn’t make it to the coronation, and thanks to his drugged state he won’t, he forfeits the crown and the evil cousin can take over.

James, having now been convinced of the rightfulness of this hereditary monarchy, offers to dress up as Roderick for the coronation and switch back once Roderick recovers.

So the next day he gets crowned while Baron Von Warburg bemoans the failure of his evil plan, in an extra slimy voice to prove that he’s a villain. The trio head back to the cabin, where the Prince has woken up and is totally incapable of grasping that this scheme was devised to help him. He insists that clearly James the imposter is out to take his throne permanently, with the two advisers’ aide… or possibly just fooling them… he’s fuzzy on the details. This particular part isn’t bad writing. They are intentionally establishing Prince Roderick as entitled and too dumb to come up with a decent conspiracy plot to justify his own knee-jerk suspicions. So, he’s not only a thrill-seeking alcoholic but also utterly devoid of common sense. Are we sure we don’t want Von Warburg to take over? He isn’t a swell guy either, but his only definite crime is the attempted assassination, I could see that being the act of a morally grey character trying to avert a greater catastrophe. Hardly unprecedented; Catherine the Great’s husband died of a mysterious and convenient illness shortly after she got sneaky-coronated, and she was one of Russia’s less sucky rulers.

And speaking of Von Warburg, he was suspicious of the failure of his brilliant attempt and followed the trio after the ceremony. He and his henchmen burst in with a gun, announce that A. yes they are totally evil, and were from the beginning B. they figure they will just shoot everybody and stage it like they killed each other off. And as the only armed people in the room, they can do this quite easily, right now. Too easily for the plot, so instead Von Warburg tells his henchman to go tie them up first. Now Von Warburg can’t shoot into the crowd without risking hitting his own man, and they’re both already outnumbered two to one, so the heroes have the advantage back. James plays the hero by tackling the henchmen, there’s a scuffle, and unsurprisingly the villains do not come out well.

A few days after everything goes down, Roderick and James are taking a walk and having a heart to heart. Roderick apologizes for being a dick… well, he’s still a clueless reckless irresponsible dolt, but he owns it when he is proven wrong, so he’s at least one qualification better than the dude pretending to run my country.

Obviously James can’t have any special recognition, as that will ruin the whole deception, but Roderick insists on giving him something. James says he lost his watch on the way over, and Roderick gives him a lovely pocket watch that plays a tune when you open it. They part ways, after some reflections about how interesting it is that James acted more kingly than the guy who was technically king.

Whit triumphantly announces that he has now illustrated what true nobility is all about. So, I guess, being brave and doing things for the good of others and stuff. Not wrong, but a little vague. Really what’s going on here is that we went on expecting good behavior from nobles for so many generations, cause clearly God would only have rewarded them with such power and status if they were good, and after a while the world “nobility” came to mean both “not a peasant” and “generally being a swell kind of person.” Whit could have saved himself a lot of time.

Isaac walks off, with a parting line about how it’s too bad that stories like that don’t ever happen in real life, then another kid asks Whit what time it is. Whit opens up a pocket watch that plays the same music as the one Roderick gives to James. So clearly the real reason Whit didn’t want Isaac to tell it is because it’s a super secret real adventure he had, and if it ever gets out, say in a shitty homework assignment from one kid, then the political stability of the kingdom of Muldavia would be destroyed!

Wait, it’s still a hereditary monarchy? Did the USSR just go, “comrades, this place is too tiny for even us to give a shit about,” or what?

In my regular sections, I hold AIO to a high standard. I don’t just criticize them for bad messages and messages poorly conveyed. I point out what they never bring up, and I do that because AIO markets itself as such a great and comprehensive moral authority. I thought it was important to review an episode that illustrates this. Normally this emphasis comes from Chris’s intros and outros, but as I said last time, they are pretty bland and I don’t want to go into them every time. But they are there. They do give an impressionable kid the sense that these are stories you should be paying attention to, because they know everything. To be honest, little kid me loved this episode because it had castles and fights in it, but I didn’t really get the point about nobility. But I assumed they knew what they were talking about, because this is Adventures in Odyssey! They are so confident about how much they know all the things!

Yet when you break it down, we don’t even get a clear idea of what the moral sense of nobility is. On the one hand, we clearly have James being brave and self-sacrificing, but in ways that the average person will never get a chance to be. So we have to see these actions as a sort of synecdoche. He’s using a small example of moral action as a stand in for generally holding oneself to a high standard and being willing to do what’s right at a high personal cost. Also, is the point that we shouldn’t worry about NOT being royalty, since we can already be noble in our behavior? Or that hierarchy is meaningless without right behavior to back it up? Either way, it’s  not a very meaningful point to their audience of modern American children. We told the nobility to stuff it back in 1776.

There’s nothing wrong with putting out a meh episode every now and then. There is something wrong with building yourself up as the moral authority when some days you can’t even get your own message straight.

Final Ratings

Best Bit: The fight scene was pretty exciting to me when I was a kid. The sheer stupidity of the villains’ action brings it down a few notches, but the narration is still well done. Plus, there’s not a lot of competition, so by process of elimination… yeah.

Worst Bit: Oh god. Do I pick the watch thing? The history teacher? The bit where they followed a plane on foot? It’s a hard call, but since the history homework frame device sets up so many problems in the rest of the story, I have to go with that. Close call though.

Story Rating: All they did was rip off The Prisoner of Zenda, and they weren’t even that creative about it. Hell, even their choice of which book to rip off is uncreative. Everybody has done a Prisoner of Zenda. Doctor Who’s version had androids. D

Moral Rating: Yes yes, it’s very good to be a good person, as opposed to a not-good one. C

The Wicker King, by K. Ancrum

The Wicker King

Note: the release date for this book is October 31st, and it is still available for pre-order at the time I am publishing this. Get it at a discount and support an awesome new writer!

  • Genre
    • YA, Suspense, Psychological Thriller, Magical Realism
  • Plot Summary
    • The story of two damaged teen boys who love and support each other. If by love and support you mean become entangled in a quest to save an fantasy land which might only be a sign of their impending madness. It’s sweet, in an “oh god no what are you doing stop it with the fire” kind of way.
  • Characters
    • August and Jack are so lovable. On the surface, they’re both a couple of foul-mouthed, troublemaking assholes, but the deeper you get the more you see the kind, caring natures beneath. And not the fake kind of jerks with a heart of gold either. All too often I’m informed that I’m going to get jerks with a heart of gold, but I actually get jerks who are mildly less mean to the narrator, and then act like they deserve a cookie for it. Jack and August aren’t like that. They are both, at times, intentionally off-putting in ways that make sense for the defense mechanisms they’ve developed, and the wounds they have received. They also make terrible decisions that make sense for the level of mental and emotional maturity they have reached. They also try very, very hard to help those around them, as well as each other, albeit sometimes in the most misguided of ways. It’s impossible not to care intensely for them. 
  • Tone: What’s it Like to Read This Book?
    • I wanna say punked up Hitchcock.
    • Not the spiky haired kind of punk, but the attitude that lies underneath. The adolescent cynicism that half wants to rock the world and smash the system and half wants to be proven wrong about how broken they think everything already is.
    • And Hitchcock in the sense of deep, raw dread that has nothing to do with bombs or bullets, and everything to do with being being made aware of the fragility of the human mind, and then given just enough information on how this could all go terribly wrong.
    • Not to mention the incredibly wry sense of humor that both styles have in common. It’s a great read.
  • Other Shiny Stuff
    • Bisexual representation!
    • The format is cool as hell. Each chapter is short but unnumbered. They have short titles, and sometimes the connection between the title and the chapter text can be a bit of a puzzle (but when you get it, a whole new level of cool is added). Mixed in are police reports, news stories, notes from the characters, and even mix CDs, all adding levels of insight into what’s going on. Then there’s the evolving art on the pages themselves… they start out as plain paper, but gradually acquire smudges, margin doodles and burn marks. Sometimes the entire page is black with white text. It’s intriguing and atmospheric and looks absolutely stunning.
    • I was impressed by the level of research into mental health and relationships. It’s a big topic, and the author went into some areas that I’m unfamiliar with, but in every place where this book and my experience overlapped, she was dead on.
    • I also felt, as a person with mental health issues, that the issues that were used for suspense weren’t glamorized. I love psychological horror, but I have read all too many where the authors made the pain of mental illness or abuse something romantic to endure. Here, I actually felt the most romantic bits were the fragments of normal teen life, which was a welcome change. 
  • Content Warnings
    • Parental neglect, scenes of drowning and burning, hallucinations. Altogether, nothing too graphic, so unless you have specific traumas associated with those things, you’ll probably be fine. If you love suspense but not gore, this is the book for you.
  • Quotes
    • “Sometimes, especially when he was cooking, he felt like maybe the Great Big Sad took his mom so he would be ready for Jack. Like the fear and depression that choked her until she couldn’t move made it so that when Jack stumbled into his house three years ago and admitted that he hadn’t seen his own mom in weeks, August was ready to sit him down and make him some soup.”
    • “‘They have stories about you, songs. They call you the Raven, the Golden Bird, the King’s Lionheart. Women smile at you as we walk in the streets; men talk about you over their fires. It’s written all over the walls. They love you and you can’t even see them… my Lionheart. Can you imagine?'”
    • “‘The Buildings fade to trees, the trees fade to bramble, the bramble fades to dust, and beyond is the land of forgotten kings. The Wastes. Where nothing lives, nothing grows, and nothing dies.'”

American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese

  • Genre
    • Graphic Novel, Young Adult, Coming of Age, Fantasy
  • Plot Summary
    • This book interweaves the stories of Jin, a Chinese American boy dealing with ostracism and bullying, Danny, a blonde white teen with a surreally stereotypical Chinese cousin, and the Monkey King, a hero from Chinese folklore seeking to become the equal of creator god Tze-Yo-Tzuh. All three are linked with themes about pride, identity, vanity and self-acceptance. At the end, they come together in a way that is clever, surprising and satisfying.
  • Characterization
    • The protagonists are all various types of hot messes, but you can’t help root for them anyway. You see where everyone is coming from, and want them to hurry up and learn their lesson so they can be happy.
    • Special shout out to the monk Wong Lai-Tsao. I love seeing hapless, unassuming people get a moment in the spotlight, especially when that comes from being who they are, not despite it.
  • Tone: What’s it Like to Read This Book?
    • It’s loads of fun, then surprisingly thought provoking. It’s a book I read once and thinking, “yeah, that was pretty good”, but found myself obsessing over it for years after. Like any story with a good twist, it’s highly re-readable; you will catch new things each time around.
  • Other Shiny Stuff
  • Content Warnings
    • Naturally, the main conflicts all revolve around characters overcoming stereotyping, bigotry and ostracism; apart from that, the content is all very lighthearted and tame.
  • Quotes
    • “It’s easy to become anything you wish . . . so long as you’re willing to forfeit your soul.”
    • “You know, Jin, I would have saved myself from five hundred years’ imprisonment beneath a mountain of rock had I only realized how good it is to be a monkey.”

Reviewing Adventures in Odyssey as an Atheist: The Time of Our Lives

(sorry for the delay. I thought I’d work a half shift today, come home, do a final polish, and post it only an hour or so late. But at work things got, well, let’s just say it didn’t end up being a half shift. Again, so sorry!)

This is my fourth and last review on the topic of stewardship, so I want to emphasize that AIO loves this topic. In fact, now is a good time to explain that the more they cover a topic, the fewer episodes I end up reviewing. This and the previous mental health section are perfect illustrations of why. They covered mental health sporadically, often indirectly, and episodes sometimes contradicted each other, yet as a kid I didn’t pick up on how poorly they understand the issue. I cobbled their incoherent explanations into something that needed to be debunked later in my life. As a result, nearly every episode that touched on mental health demanded its own review. With stewardship, their position was so coherent and comprehensive that I could easily pick some representative highlights. Many episodes were, essentially, “the first story from Tales of Moderation, but as it’s own episode” or “Making the Grade, but with chores.” And many of them were great stories, but I’ve got a lot of ground to cover with this series. I gotta move on sometime.

Anyway, this episode is a show within a show; an Adventures in Odyssey episode presented as an in-universe episode of Kid’s Radio. I don’t think I’ve explained Kid’s Radio before. It’s um, a radio station. In Odyssey. For kids. Pretty much exactly what it says on the tin.

This Kid’s Radio special is a Twilight Zone parody, with Connie doing a rather bad female-Rod-Serling impression. It’s called the Twi-Life Zone, because it’s life lessons I guess?

We are first introduced to thirteen year old Kathy, who loves malls. LOOOOVES malls. All her spare time is spent at the mall. As she wanders with her friend Julie, they check out a piano store, where Kathy plays a piece and talks about her dreams of playing Carnegie Hall and marrying Kyle from their school. They then split up briefly, so Kathy can check on a sale that Julie isn’t interested in. When Kathy finishes and tries to find her, she instead finds a woman in her twenties who claims to be Julie. When Kathy looks in the mirror, she realizes she too has aged to twenty-three.

That’s right, it was a tiiiimme waaaaarp!!!!!

Julie is getting married, and Kathy, having been thirteen five minutes ago, had no idea. Julie isn’t surprised, and snidely responds that she sent the invite to the mall. That’s not how that works, Julie. Not unless Kathy manages a store there or something, which, given that the whole moral is how she’s wasting her time at the mall, is probably not the case.

From here, the story becomes fairly repetitive. Kathy tries to do things she took for granted, like play the piano, and finds her adult self has forgotten them. She encounters people she knew, barely recognizes them, and finds they’ve moved on with their lives. In every case, the cause for her loss keeps returning to the mall. She spends all her time there, and so she has lost anything else that might matter to her.

The idea of time travelling as a metaphor for time wasting is cool, but to work, Kathy should only encounter things that she could have lost either by time travelling, or by repeatedly choosing a fun but unproductive activity over things with more lasting consequences.  Some problems Kathy encounters fit this. She has lost touch with her best friend, doesn’t know her baby nephew’s name, and she can no longer play the piano. On the other hand, a good chunk of the story is spent establishing that her family moved in the past ten years and she’s forgotten where they, or she, now live. That’s horrifying, but not really a “wasted your time in the mall” problem. It’s an “I was involuntarily sucked into a wormhole” problem. Then there’s the fact that her crush ended up marrying somebody else; hate to break it to you Kathy, but that probably would have happened anyway. At the same time, she has up to date information on every sale in a ten mile radius, and the exact fabric content of a dress that adult Kathy bought. So, does she only know what she knew at age 13, or does she also have the information of adult Kathy? If the former, how does she know exactly where tennis shoes are 40% off, and if the latter, why the fuck can’t she find her own house?

Additionally, we are told she is obsessed with the mall, but not shown that she is neglecting everything else. We literally see (well, hear) her practice piano in the piano store, and she does a damn good job. Obsession alone is not evidence of wasted time; everybody needs down time, as other AIO episodes acknowledge.

Kathy story ends abruptly, and we turn to the story of Jeremy, chronic watcher of television. One day, the police break in. Unbeknownst to Jeremy, TVs are now illegal, due to their inherent time sucking properties. The cops lecture him, confiscate his TV and suggest that he go read a book or something.

“Go read a book” is such a cliche, and when you think about it, is it inherently more constructive? I suppose a even a bad book demands some level of thought and focus, while you can mindlessly flip through channels, not even fully absorbing the content. Plus, you get fewer product placements in a book. That said, there are books that are trashy, ill informed wastes of time, and shows that are truly thought provoking and artistic. Is a book really inherently better than a TV show of similar quality? Or do we just dump on TV because it is new? Fun fact; novels were once considered lurid wastes of time, and dangerous to a person’s mental stability. Especially when women read them.

Anyway Jeremy gives up reading after about one sentence, goes looking for something else to do, and finds an old mini television in the garage. He turns it on, and it works okay. But the police get a random hunch that he’s got another set, double back at the exact right time and catch him. Also somehow they know to check the garage first, even though last time they burst into his living room. Because…..?

Also, where the heck are Jeremy’s parents in all this? There is a line between exaggerated metaphor and weird shit pulled from your ass. And if you look behind you, right now, you might even be able to see it.

Anyway, Jeremy takes off, carrying the TV, with the cops in hot pursuit. He, a kid who rarely leaves his couch, and is lugging an old appliance, manages to outpace several adults trained in foot pursuit, and he is only foiled in his escape by the random appearance of a cliff.

Obviously, his first move is to throw the TV over it. Cause, you know, he loves it so much he can’t bear to see them take it? And destroying it is better?

One cop’s immediate response is a dismayed “there goes the evidence!” Hey, dipshit, if you need it that bad, there’s probably recognizably TV-ish fragments around there somewhere. Plus, you broke into a private home without a warrant, terrorized an unsupervised child, and then went back to do it a second time on a whim. I’m pretty sure you’re living in a dystopic police state.

Anyway, they then attempt to arrest him, and he jumps. Off the cliff. Because TV.

You know, every consequence of his bad habit has come directly from the fact of it being illegal. If he were just sitting on his own, he might arguably be making bad choices for his own health, but he wouldn’t be choosing between the prison industrial complex and a literal cliff. Plus, we can clearly see that the cops don’t actually have a workable plan for dealing with Jeremy’s problem. They just take away this thing he’s become dependent on. Then when he fails to immediately adapt to this TV-less world, they hound him, a kid in an emotionally fucked up state. All without bothering to wonder what so messed up this kid’s life that he ended up in this state of dependence in the first place.

Lane must now pause, take a deep breathe, remember this is not the episode to discuss his views on the war on drugs. Breathe in. Breathe out. Save it for another rant. Okay, I’m good now.

The cops continue their “magically knowing things” streak by assuming that he survived the fall and will be making it for the state lines. Apparently TV watching is still legal in neighboring states. They mount a full-scale manhunt for this one kid, and when they find him, the main cop rappels down from a friggin’ helicopter, where he… lets Jeremy go. Not because he’s realized the absurdity of this law, but because living as a TV-obsessed person will punish him more than they ever could.

whut

what?

WHAAAAAAAAATTTTT!

THEN WHY THE HELL DO YOU HAVE THIS LAW IN THE FIRST PLACE!

WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK??!!

Yeah, that line of ridiculousness is not even visible from here.

Both protagonists then meet up as adults in a Time Wasters Anonymous meeting to talk about how they need help. Then, instead of demonstrating a story arc where they use therapy to learn how to prioritize better and work on their problems, the Twi-life zone conceit is suddenly revealed, and they are sent back in time to change their child selves. They find their younger selves hanging out in the appliance section of a department store, where Kathy can shop while Jeremy watches TV. So, in order to change their pasts and save their futures, they run up and yell about how they must have “something more constructive to do.”

Shockingly, a cliched line that never works when actual parents say it also doesn’t work when utter strangers say it. Even when those utter strangers accost you in a mall claiming they’re your future selves. Kathy and Jeremy scoff and leave, while adult Kathy and Jeremy are left crying that they are trapped in the Twi-life Zone foooorrreeeevvveeeerrrr!

No, like, literally. They say that, with the long drawn out echoy wail on “forever.” It’s bad.

There are obvious problems with this one, but the biggest one is that they are using circumstances outside the protagonist’s control to demonstrate a problem that is all about choices. Kathy didn’t choose to enter a wormhole, and Jeremy didn’t choose to ban TV. We are forced to take the narrator’s word for it that they would suffer with or without those things; their obsessions are told, not shown.

For all that, the moral isn’t bad. It’s more just lazy. Obviously, you can waste your time on things that are fun but pointless. Obviously there are things that are difficult in the short term, but more rewarding in the long run, and it can be easy to understand that, but much harder to choose, moment by moment, to do the harder thing.

Unfortunately, the writers of this story seem to have just assumed that, since their premise was obviously correct, they could throw just anything together and create a good episode. They didn’t. They really didn’t.

Final Ratings

Best Part: No truly good moments. Most scenes self-sabotage in one way or another. The only real exception is the moment where Kathy’s old piano teacher proves she can’t play anymore. They successfully made their point, and gave it some authentic emotional impact, which shows what this episode could have been if, ironically, they had put more time and effort into it. 

Worst Part: Why the fucking hell would you go through all that just to let him go?!?!?!?!

Story Rating: Oh god. D-

Moral Rating: If they didn’t repeatedly state that this is about wasting time, one could be forgiven for assuming this was an episode about how TV and malls are inherently evil. As it is, their intent was made extremely obvious, so I can hold off talking about that problem for now. C-

Final Ratings For Stewardship Topic

Best Episode: Tales of Moderation

Worst Episode: Time of Our Lives

Good Things They Said: Don’t make money and material goods the center of your life. Seek a good work/life balance. Realize that your goals will require work to accomplish, and not all of that work will be fun. If you spend all your time doing things you want to do now, you miss out on future opportunities. Do take breaks and take care of yourself, but don’t be tempted into an easy route that will end up hurting you or someone else. 

Bad Things They Said: Honestly, there wasn’t anything I would consider bad, just times that the good ideas listed above weren’t handled very well. I reviewed what I thought were their three greatest episodes and one of their worst, but they fill the full spectrum between these extremes. 

Things They Failed to Address: So, in right-wing conservative world, there’s a common assumption that the problems of the poor can be solved simply by giving them better values and shit. There’s no admission that there may be systemic issues of inequality that need to be addressed on a social level; that’s a thought that at best doesn’t occur to them, and at worst is rejected outright. This show doesn’t do anything to correct that. 

But honestly, there’s a difference between a set of values being bad, and simply not being a panacea. There weren’t any episodes, as far as the ones I had access to, that directly blamed poor people for their poverty. There are other problems with how the show handles social and political problems, but those are better discussed elsewhere. Like in my next section, for example!

Overall Rating: I want to give this a full A, but episodes like Time of Our Lives do exist, and lazy writing in an episode about personal responsibility irks me so much I’m tempted to give them an A-, just for spite. What do you think, award winning comedy Community?

Okay, fine. I’m keeping the D and C minuses above, cause those were super earned, but the overall topic gets a full A.

 

The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, by Joy Harjo

The Woman Who Fell From The Sky

  • Genre
    • Poetry, Free Verse
  • Plot Summary
    • A collection of poems about heritage, pain, personal growth, love and hope in the face of grief. 
  • Character Empathy
    • Interesting. You see mostly people in fragmented moments and sideways glances, but these still evoke a strong sense of personality, perhaps because they capture the contradictions, frailties and dilemmas that make up real humans.
  • Tone: What’s it Like to Read This Book?
    • The first thing that came to mind is that this book is like water. I love wading into big cool lakes, finding an open space and just floating in the middle; this book gave me that feeling. It’s a force of nature, but gently immersive. It’s dynamic, but peaceful. The sentences are deliberately long, so you get a little lost in the hops from concept to concept, but the sense of an emotion or idea completely captures you. It’s a book to reread and reread, not so much to understand it better, as to understand how you understood it so well the first time around.
    • There’s also a permeating, thunderingly fierce sense of love. She talks often about the power of love and kindness; not mere civility, but the kind of determined, transformative love that shows up in small moments, but takes real courage to show.
  • Other Shiny Stuff
    • The end of each poem has notes on the inspiration, whether historical or personal, and extra little reflections. I love it when authors do that. 
    • Look, this is a book of absurdly pretty poems. Do you like absurdly pretty poems? Ones where you’ll read it and totally lose track of your surroundings, because you’re just dwelling on the pure, distilled majesty that is being fed to your eyeballs? Then you’ll like this book. What else do you need?
  • Content Warnings
    • Some allusions to abuse and oppression, but nothing graphic.
  • Quotes
    • “If we cry more tears we will ruin the land with salt; instead let’s praise that which would distract us with despair. Make a song for death, a song with yellow teeth and bad breath. For loneliness, the house guest who eats everything and refuses to leave. A song for bad weather so we can stand together under our leaking roof, and make a terrible music with our wise and ragged bones.”
    • “Every day is a reenactment of the creation story. We emerge from dense unspeakable material, through the shimmering power of dreaming stuff.”
    • “Truth can appear as disaster in a land of things unspoken.”
    • “(When a people institute a bureaucratic department to service justice then be suspicious. False justice is not justified by massive structure, just as the sacred is not confineable to buildings constructed for the purpose of worship.)
    • “Her mother has business in the house of chaos. She is a prophet disguised as a young mother who is looking for a job.”
    • I’m sorry, said the house who sat down by the man who’d taken refuge in the street. The inhabitants could be heard disappearing through aluminum walls as the boy bent to the slap and beating by the father who was charged with loving and nothing in him could answer to that angel. I could not protect you, cried the house: Though the house gleamed with appliances. Though the house was built with postwar money and hope. Though the house was their haven after the war. Though the war never ended.”
    • “When I hear crows talking, death is a central topic, Death often occurs in clusters, they say. They watch the effect like a wave that moves out from the center of the question. The magnetic force is attractive and can make you want to fly to the other side of the sky.”
    • All acts of kindness are lights in the war for justice.”

The Tell-Tale Brain, by V. S. Ramachandran

The Tell Tale Brain

  • Genre
    • Non-Fiction, Neuroscience, Behavioral Science
  • Summary
    • A world renowned neuroscientist ponders the biological roots of human nature.
  • Information
    • God, what isn’t here? Maybe it will be easier if I just give some of the chapter titles.
    • Phantom Limbs and Plastic Brains
    • Seeing and Knowing
    • The Power of Babble – The Evolution of Language
    • An Ape With a Soul – How Introspection Evolved
    • Loud Colors and Hot Babes – Synesthesia.
    • Yeah, that’s just a sampling. He goes into everything. EVERYTHING.
  • Tone: What’s it Like to Read This Book?
    • The quotes below give a good sense of his prose style. V. S. Ramachandran has a strong sense of the poetic and the philosophical and he weaves them together with practical, empirical data to create some of the most beautiful musings on the nature of humanity.
    • He avoids one of the most common pitfalls of people writing about psychology and neuroscience; he admits that the information is actively evolving. Human behavior brings in a whole new host of variables that are hard to control for, as well as a whole new minefield of experimenter biases. I’ve read too many books and articles that say, “this particular hormone did this in that test and this in that other, therefore it definitely one hundred percent explains why teenage girls talk on the phone all the time.” Yeah, that’s a reference to an actual book I read. Ugh. Anyway, back to the positives. In this book, if he says something is well-established, it’s because it’s actually well established. Other times, he goes into further studies we should do, possible alternative explanations, and the questions we still have. Where others plop down and try to insist that where we are is where the answers are, he gets you excited about the vast unexplored horizon ahead.
    • The above is especially a relief when he starts talking about issues like autism, where so many are proud to announce their theories as if they should be crowned Ultimate Solver of All The Things before they retire to a castle on their own private island. V. S. Ramachandran has theories and presents evidence, but he has the guts to admit there’s a lot of research left to do.
    • He’s also got a wonderful gift for making the technical understandable. Even someone fairly new to the subject material can follow him easily.
  • Other Shiny Stuff
    • His theories on the roots and evolution of aesthetics are absolutely fascinating and have kept me thinking for years.
    • So much psychological and neuroscientific writing ignores the most scientifically fascinating part of humanity; the fact that we can vary in the strangest, most unpredictable, most counterintuitive ways. It creates a reductive look at human behavior and leaves people out. V. S. Ramachandran takes the opposite approach. He actively embraces humanities little varieties and quirks. He covers apotemnophilia, synaesthesia, theories on biological causes for being transgender (I really enjoyed this part) and more. Even where I disagree, or think he’s only got part of the picture, I love that he sees those things as not just part of humanity, but essential to fully understanding it.
    • There’s just too much in this book. It’s fun and fascinating and beautiful and if you like science you should read it.
  • Content Warnings
    • Not applicable
  • Quotes
    • “What do we mean by “knowledge” or “understanding”? And how do billions of neurons achieve them? These are complete mysteries. Admittedly, cognitive neuroscientists are still very vague about the exact meaning of words like “understand,” “think,” and indeed the word “meaning” itself.”
    • “Yet as human beings we have to accept-with humility-that the question of ultimate origins will always remain with us, no matter how deeply we understand the brain and the cosmos that it creates.”
    • “How can a three-pound mass of jelly that you can hold in your palm imagine angels, contemplate the meaning of infinity, and even question its own place in the cosmos? Especially awe inspiring is the fact that any single brain, including yours, is made up of atoms that were forged in the hearts of countless, far-flung stars billions of years ago. These particles drifted for eons and light-years until gravity and change brought them together here, now. These atoms now form a conglomerate- your brain- that can not only ponder the very stars that gave it birth but can also think about its own ability to think and wonder about its own ability to wonder. With the arrival of humans, it has been said, the universe has suddenly become conscious of itself. This, truly, it the greatest mystery of all.”

Reviewing Adventures in Odyssey as an Atheist: Making the Grade

This episode opens with Lawrence Hodges making an invisibility potion to escape the evil agents of Destructo, which to the uninitiated looks an awful lot like hiding in his closet to avoid science homework. His mother, being one of those uninitiated, says that until he does his homework he won’t go to the Barclay family’s party. This is enough to make Lawrence abandon his top secret mission and participate in the reality occupied by the rest of us. Albeit reluctantly.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned Lawrence yet, but that paragraph tells you pretty much everything you need to know.

Lawrence is excited mainly so he can hang out with Jimmy Barclay, his babysitter/cool older friend, but the party is really more of a celebration for the parents. George Barclay has recently been accepted into seminary school, to fulfill his dream of being a pastor. Mary Barclay is pregnant with their third child. Everyone is excited for the new family member. They’re less enthusiastic about her cravings for anchovies on ice cream, mashed potatoes topped with caramel popcorn and ketchup frosted chocolate cake.

In the wake of all these changes, Jimmy is thinking about what he wants to do with his life, especially now that career day is coming up. It’s going to be a big deal. He’s going to fill out questionnaires, meet with counselors, and potentially even get to take a field trip. As he has been looking over his options, he has found himself obsessively returning to the idea of being a paramedic. He loves the thought of being first in line in the fight to save somebody’s life.

George encourages him, as does Lawrence, when he finally gets there. Granted, Lawrence doesn’t actually know what a paramedic does, but he figures that if it’s something Jimmy wants to do, it’s automatically awesome. Lawrence, by the way, wants to work for the NSA and the FBI, as a double agent. I don’t think anyone has explained to him what a double agent actually is.

While Jimmy meets with the counselor, Lawrence gets into another battle with his mother over science homework. With the lure of the Barclay’s party gone, she is forced to rely on the old “no TV until it’s done” game. Which, of course, is easily thwarted by watching TV when she’s not around. So she tries for making homework a little more fun. What if he’s a world famous spy trying to smuggle formulas out of the enemy countries?

“Nice try Mom, but I already tried that. World famous spies only need to know how to get the formulas out, not why E=MC squared.”

Yeah, she really shouldn’t have tried to out-imagine Lawrence. What makes this all worse is that she’s a teacher herself. Unfortunately she teaches history, so she can’t counter his defend Einstein’s formula with a description of spacetime itself bending to preserve the speed of light. So she plays the Mom card instead.

Willing to concede the battle, but not the war, Lawrence goes to enlist Jimmy’s help. He finds Jimmy practicing CPR on his sister’s doll. The counselor loved his idea, is taking him on one of those cool field trips to meet professionals in his field of interest. He’s nervous, and wants to impress his paramedic mentor with first aid knowledge. So on the whole, Jimmy is a bit distracted right now. But he can relate to Lawrence’s detestation of science, and promises that, after he’s done academically overachieving, he’ll help Lawrence underachieve.

So he goes to meet the paramedic, and finds the job as cool as he thought, but then gets a nasty shock. Turns out, science is relevant to the medical field. Whoda thunk it? To impress this on him, the paramedic delivers rapid fire questions about hypertension, conversion rates, and second vs third degree burns, barely giving Jimmy time to realize he doesn’t know before hitting him with another question. The paramedic emphasizes that he doesn’t want Jimmy to be discouraged. But he does want Jimmy to understand that, as a paramedic, his ability to recall this information instantly will be the difference between someone else’s life or death.

This is a completely fair thing to do, but it does mean Jimmy comes home pretty depressed. George gives him a talk. As a new seminary student, he can relate to not loving his studies. He is taking eschatology, hermeneutics and Ancient Greek, and can barely get through the titles of his classes without wanting to fall asleep. But he’s going to do it, because he wants to be the best pastor he can. Even as he says this, George admits that he feels like he’s being a bad role model.

“I feel like I’ve just broken one of the cardinal rules of parenting… you know, the one that says ‘Thou shalt not admit disliking school.'”

Jimmy has the opposite view, however. A moment of vulnerable honesty has had more impact on him than years of rote lines about the value of education. And it inspires him to go be a better role model himself.

As the rules of narrative progression dictate, he goes to see Lawrence just in time to witness another homework argument. His mother has reached the point of threatening to sell the TV and anything else fun. Lawrence counters that he would rather have splinters pushed under his toenails and be covered in killer bees than do any more homework. She calmly says “that can be arranged.” Yeah, she’s all out of fucks.

Jimmy dashes Lawrence’s hopes of reinforcement. He admits that all this boring crap (seriously, someone get them some Neil DeGrasse Tyson lectures!) is important after all. He’s not willing to enable Lawrence’s procrastination. He is, however, willing to give some free tutoring. He’s got catching up to do, and teaching Lawrence is probably a decent way to give himself a refresher. Lawrence is torn. On the one hand, the agents of Destructo are, at this very moment, gaining the advantage while he and his elders are all distracted by such trivial matters. On the other hand, in his world Jimmy is basically God. In the end, hero worship wins the day. Jimmy has probably spared us all an annoying Broadchurch “how could such a horrifying child murder happen in a swell town like this” storyline.

Final Ratings

Best Part: Once again, I love George’s talk. The decision to make this a moment of empathy rather than a state-the-theme lecture was a good one; the theme is definitely there, but the scene has authenticity and catharsis that those scenes can so easily lack.

Worst Part: There’s a scene I left out, just before George and Jimmy’s talk, where Jimmy talks to his sister Donna about careers that wouldn’t require doing well in some kind of academia. They settle on politics. Seriously? You don’t need to study for politics? Look, I know politicians are eternally fun to dump on, but this kind of thinking how we get Trump and Kim Jong-Un playing “I’m not touching you” with nukes.

Although, technically they’ve both got high ranking jobs in the field, so maybe she has a point. The distant rattling you hear is my nervous laughter in the face of the Apocalypse.

Story Rating: Fun and funny. A little obvious where it’s going, but executed well enough to make up for that. A

Moral Rating: It follows the same pattern of common sense expressed clearly. Gets it’s message across while still having fun and not being condescending. A+